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West Central Florida Forecast

West Central Florida Forecast
West Central Florida Forecast

Capt. Ray Markham covers the fishing forecast from Aripeka to Longboat Key, including Hudson, Anclote Key, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Clearwater, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Anna Maria Island and Bradenton

May 13 - 15

A breezy start to the week will improve coming into the weekend if the weather forecasters are correct. Monday, May 16 is our new moon this month and around it, tides will be cranking up. 


west central florida fishing report
Triggerfish are being caught aboard the party boats out of Hubbard's Marina.

Anglers looking for some fish to smoke might find a virtual gold mine right off the beaches each morning. The sunrise timeframe has been producing some light easterly winds that will lay seas down near shore. This makes for the perfect opportunity to either slow-troll live baits for kingfish or smaller spoons on flatlines and planers for Spanish mackerel. The kingfish migration is continuing, although the bulk of the schools moving toward the Panhandle has passed our area. You’ll still find some migrating fish on deepwater wrecks and over patches of hard bottom wherever bait schools are holding.

Hogfish continue to be an option ranging from 50-to 120-foot depths. Warmer waters have slowed the action for them. Triggerfish are still available. Catch reports from anglers catching them have put them in the 100-to 150-foot range.

Good numbers of red grouper are being caught in 120-to 160-feet of water. These are some of the largest being reported. There are smaller red grouper being caught in 80-to 120-feet. Gag grouper remained closed through the end of May.

Tripletail numbers may seem to have diminished, and that may be because stone crab traps should be removed from the water by now, reducing the small mini-structures that these fish could typically be found around. However, the swim buoys just off the beaches will begin holding more of these fish are well as any kind of floating object seen in the Gulf. Approach all structures quietly with a live shrimp or jig and cast up current or wind, allowing the bait or lure to sink down toward the fish or structure. Most fish will either be found just around the structure or in the event of a moored object such as a swim buoy, anywhere the marker is and the line that attaches it to the bottom.

Hitting any kind of hard bottom with structure from the shore out to deep water will give anglers an opportunity to catch mangrove snapper. The fish in shallower water will be smaller, ranging from 10-to 14-inches on average but offshore you’ll find mangos up to about 10-pounds. On the upcoming full moon, you’ll see a terrific night bite for them both nearshore and offshore. Offshore depths beyond 100-feet are producing lane, vermilion, and mangrove snapper. As a reminder—all anglers on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida who intend to fish for or harvest certain reef fish from a private vessel are required to obtain a State Reef Fish Angler designation. Also of importance, anyone on a commercial, for-hire, or private recreational vessel is required to have a venting tool or descending device rigged and ready to use when fishing for reef fish in Gulf of Mexico federal water. The federal water limit starts at 9NM from shore.


west central florida fishing report

Tarpon are moving up and down the coast and will be very active on next Monday’s full moon and the days surrounding it. Late afternoons should be the best bite on the stronger outgoing tides. Look for tide rips with weedlines carrying blue crabs and calico crabs with it. Some anglers refer to these as pass crabs, typically because on these stronger tides these crabs can be found being carried out of passes with the current. This timeframe will likely produce the best bite of the day. Early mornings just at sunrise will be another great opportunity for catching tarpon. Top baits will include jumbo live shrimp, crabs, big scaled sardines, threadfin herring, and pinfish.

Spanish mackerel are moving up inside Tampa Bay in greater numbers. You’ll find them around any bait pods. Many times the bait will hold around any of the channel markers or range markers in the bait and leading out toward Egmont Key. While looking around these markers for mackerel, keep your eyes peeled for cobia and tripletail. Both can be found here. If you’re working the edges of sand bars, look for big rays cruising those edges. You might also find cobia trailing close behind looking to scarf up a crab, shrimp, or other prey. Keep a pitch rod ready and rigged with a live pinfish or crab. For artificial users, I’ve had tremendous success using 37MR49 MirrOlure MirrOdines, DOA 4-inch glow shrimp, DOA Trolling Model Baitbusters and black or purple DOA Sna-Koils, all producing some big cobia. The current minimum sized cobia is 33 inches measured to the fork. As of July 1st, the minimum size will increase to 36 inches in state waters. 

Anglers fishing the eastern side of Tampa Bay and the lower portion around Fort Desoto are slowly seeing a recovery of the trout population following nearly 3 years of red tide that decimated the population of fish and moved others. While it may be legal to take trout right now, be aware of the new size, boat, and bag limits in place and the areas of delineation where these changes take place. See for details of those changes.

Beach fishing for snook on a fly rod in the summer has long been a pastime of many fly anglers. The beaches south of Siesta Key have been very good for this type of fishing as they are less populated. Some of the best conditions are after the sun has gotten a little higher in the sky, in or about the 9-to 10 a.m. time frame. Patterns that work well here are Clouser Minnows, Glass Minnows, and sand fleas. A 6 or 8-wt. fly rod is all you need with a weight-forward floating fly line. Most of the snook will be in the surf where the water meets the sand. There is typically a trough where small baitfish and sand fleas will be. That’s where you’ll find snook. Just be mindful of beachgoers.

You might find a few pompano in the surf if you’re looking for snook. But you can also find them in many of the passes and bars coming out of the passes along the coast. Doc’s Goofy Jigs in yellow, pink, or chartreuse will work on these fish. Another favorite is the DOA TerrorEyz with a 1/8 oz. TerrorEyz head.

On the flats, snook will be found around mangrove islands, oyster bars, and points staging up to ambush prey as it sweeps by in the tide. Drifting a free-lined live shrimp will be amazingly productive here and will avoid most hang-ups. An artificial shrimp will work equally well here. 

Backcountry areas with grass that’s holding pinfish will probably hold some redfish right now. Reds are feeding on both live pinfish and live shrimp. Artificial lures that imitate these natural baits excel. The gold weedless Eppinger Rex spoon, MirrOlure 17MRPIN MirrOdine, and DOA shrimp all mimic these prey.


west central florida fishing report
A tribute to Steve Gibson of Southern Drawl Kayak fishing of Sarasota - kayak fishing guide - outdoor writer - photographer.

Sunrise on a lake or river seems to be made for fishing topwater lures and flies. I like working a Zara Spook, 12LS18 popper by MirrOlure, a Rebel Pop-R, or a popper on a fly rod. We might be nearing the end of the spawning period for bass and bream, but these fish will continue to put on a savage display on the surface and bend your rods when attacking your fly or lure. Give them a try.

‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

TRIBUTE to Steve Gibson of Sarasota

Long-time friend, outdoor writer, photographer, and kayak guide, Steve Gibson, of Sarasota passed away last week at the age of 72. He fished with many guides in Manatee, Sarasota, and Charlotte Counties. His passion was kayaking and fly fishing for just about anything, but in recent years, he loved fly fishing for some exotic species down in the Everglades. He was a member of the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers and of CCA and was active in conservation and habitat issues. Steve, you will be missed by many.

Memorial contributions may be directed to Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue ( 4951 Lorraine Rd, Bradenton, FL 34211 or Tidewell Hospice ( 5955 Rand Blvd, Sarasota, FL 34238.

Capt. Ray Markham
(941)228-3474 or (941)723-2655


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